Managerial Practices that Promote Voice and Taking Charge Among Frontline Workers

43 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2010 Last revised: 15 Sep 2011

Julia Adler-Milstein

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit; Harvard University - PhD Program in Health Policy

Sara J. Singer

Harvard School of Public Health

Michael W. Toffel

Harvard Business School

Date Written: September 12, 2011

Abstract

Process-improvement ideas often come from frontline workers who speak up by voicing concerns about problems and by taking charge to resolve them. We hypothesize that organization-wide process-improvement campaigns encourage both forms of speaking up, especially voicing concern. We also hypothesize that the effectiveness of such campaigns depends on the prior responsiveness of line managers. We test our hypotheses in the healthcare setting, in which problems are frequent. We use data on nearly 7,500 reported incidents extracted from an incident-reporting system that is similar to those used by many organizations to encourage employees to communicate about operational problems. We find that process-improvement campaigns prompt employees to speak up and that campaigns increase the frequency of voicing concern to a greater extent than they increase taking charge. We also find that campaigns are particularly effective in eliciting taking charge among employees whose managers have been relatively unresponsive to previous instances of speaking up. Our results therefore indicate that organization-wide campaigns can encourage voicing concerns and taking charge, two important forms of speaking up. These results can enable managers to solicit ideas from frontline workers that lead to performance improvement.

Suggested Citation

Adler-Milstein, Julia and Singer, Sara J. and Toffel, Michael W., Managerial Practices that Promote Voice and Taking Charge Among Frontline Workers (September 12, 2011). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 11-005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1645243 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1645243

Julia Adler-Milstein

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Harvard University - PhD Program in Health Policy ( email )

14 Story Street
4th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Sara J. Singer

Harvard School of Public Health ( email )

677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Michael W. Toffel (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617.384.8043 (Phone)

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